Statistic on a laptop

Crawlability and the basics of SEO

It’s an ever-elusive acronym: SEO. But what is search engine optimisation? In truth, it’s probably the case that no-one truly understands how search engines evaluate internet content. It’s an ever-evolving game and the rules are continually being redefined. Particularly in our new AI dominated search world.

Even those at Google sometimes struggle to comprehend how their algorithms index a piece of content, especially when there are more than 200 ranking factors. SEO brings with it new ideas, new knowledge and new concepts. Google’s AI bots decide what content to show for what search query, it’s just a matter of understanding the language used to communicate this content across the internet.

To understand SEO, we need to first understand crawlability.

What is crawlability?

Before Google can index a piece of content, it must first be given access to it so that Google’s crawlers (or spiders) – the bots that scan content on a webpage – can determine its place in the search engine results pages (SERPs). If Google’s algorithms cannot find your content, it cannot list it.

Think about a time before the internet. We had listing services like the Yellow Pages. A person could choose to list their phone number for others to find, or choose not to list a number and remain unknown. It’s the same concept on Google. Your web page (whether that’s a blog post or otherwise) must offer permission to crawlers so it can be indexed.

Robots.txt files: how do they work?

The internet uses a text file called robots.txt. It’s the standard that crawlers live by, and it outlines the permissions a crawler has on a webpage (i.e. what they can and cannot scan). Robots.txt is a part of the Robots Excursion Protocol (REP), which is a group of web standards that regulate how robot crawlers can access the internet.

Want an example? Type a website URL into your search browser and include ‘/robots.txt’ at the end. You should find yourself with a text file that outlines the permissions that a crawler has on a website. For example, here is Facebook’s robots.txt file:

 

So what we see here is that a Bingbot (a crawler used by Bing.com) cannot access any URL that will have ‘/photo.php’. This means that Bing cannot index on its SERPs any users’ Facebook photos, unless these photos exist outside of the ‘/photo.php’ subfolder.

By understanding robots.txt files, you can begin to comprehend the first stage a crawler (or spider or Googlebot, it’s all the same thing) goes through to index your website. So, here’s an exercise for you:

Go to your website and search your robots.txt file and become familiar with what you do and don’t allow crawlers to do. Here’s some terminology so you can follow along:

  • User-agent: The specific web crawler to which you’re giving crawl instructions (usually a search engine).
  • Disallow: The command used to tell a user-agent not to crawl particular URL.
  • Allow (Only applicable for Googlebot. Other search engines have different variations of bots and consequently, different commands): The command to tell Googlebot it can access a page or subfolder even though its parent page or subfolder may be disallowed.
  • Crawl-delay: How many milliseconds a crawler should wait before loading and crawling page content. Note that Googlebot does not acknowledge this command.
  • Sitemap: Used to call out the location of any XML sitemaps associated with this URL.

Crawlers (spiders): what do they look for?

A crawler is looking for specific technical factors on a web page to determine what the content is about and how valuable that content is. When a crawler enters a site, the first thing it does is read the robots.txt file to understand its permissions. Once it has permission to crawl a web page, it then looks at:

  • HTTP headers (Hypertext Transfer Protocol): HTTP headers specifically look at information about the viewer’s browser, the requested page, the server and more.
  • Meta tags: these are snippets of text that describe what a web page is about, much like the synopsis of the book.
  • Page titles: H1 and H2 tags are read before body copy is. Crawlers will get a sense of what content is by reading these next.
  • Images: Images come with alt-text, which is a short descriptor telling crawlers what the image is and how it relates to the content.
  • Body text: Of course, crawlers will read your body copy to help it understand what a web page is all about.

With this information, a crawler can build a picture about what a piece of content is saying and how valuable it is to a real human reading it.

But here’s the thing…

There are more than 200 ranking factors that a crawler will consider. It’s a complicated process, but so long as your technical checks are in place, you have a great chance of ranking in the SERPs. Backlinks, for example, are extremely important to determine how authoritative a piece of content is, as is the overall domain authority.

SEO is nothing more than about ensuring your content has the correct technical checks in place. It’s about making sure you give a crawler permission in the robots.txt files, that the crawler can easily understand your meta tags, that your page headings are clear enough and relate to the body copy, and that what you provide your readers is valuable and worth reading. And this last point is quite possibly the most important: value is everything. Because let’s face it, if an algorithm isn’t going to read your content, a human certainly won’t.


Man searching on smartphone

Micro-moments and how they’ll affect me?

Man searching on smartphone

What are micro-moments?

We live in an increasingly “right here, right now” world.

Much of this is due to the fact that the majority of us these days have a smartphone to hand at all times. This means we have in our pocket the modern-day equivalent of an encyclopaedia, a phone directory, a town guide and numerous other reference sources.

It also means that whereas even just a couple of years ago we would have specific periods of the day when we went online, nowadays we are spontaneous.

We are online for short bursts frequently. It’s as if we’ve gone from online marathons to online sprints. Instead of one or two starts, we’re off dozens of times a day, every day.

They are instances when we want to know, buy and do things or go places. We want to know there and then. We expect to do so.

These are called “micro-moments.” For both buyers and brands, they’re a significant shift in the way of doing and thinking about all things online.

Micro-moments defined

Google termed the phrase in 2015 to describe the instant when people automatically use a device to satisfy a query, want or need – those split-seconds when we need help in making up our minds.

It is a phrase to describe a phenomenon that we all do and are part of creating, even though we never knew it. We have all for some years been naturally looking up an array of things on a device – increasingly a smartphone.

We have a micro-moment moment when we get online to learn, watch, buy, see, discover or do. These are instances packed with intention during which our minds are influenced or made up.

Think mobile. Think speed.

mobile search

Those potent little computers we have to hand mostly 24/7 mean that now we expect businesses and brands to give us precisely what we want without any hassle of searching around.

We assume with growing confidence that through the might of our little screens we can get straight to the point rather than looking for a needle in the haystack.

It’s a foundational change in the manner we live our online lives. It’s the next stage and the future.

For advertisers and marketers, it’s absolutely massive.

It means online users will often research something from several trusted sources, and then make their choice. There are no longer just a few sporadic “a-ha!” moments of truth; now there are countless moments that matter. So, for instance, you might look up where to eat at the weekend on your smartphone while you’re having a coffee after the gym. Then you reach work. At lunchtime, you book the restaurant that grabbed you over that morning coffee.

As a business, perhaps more so a small business, it means you need to pull people in at that first instant. People are searching across multiple devices, for multiple reasons….and as a brand, you only really get one chance now.

You likely won’t get a second chance. There’s a huge choice out there. You have to be the best.

Even in 2015, Google discovered that 69 per cent of online consumers acknowledged that the point in time, calibre, or how appropriate a brand’s delivery is swayed their interpretation of the company.

So the brands that will be successful in the future are the ones that put effort into these aspects. They need to reach potential customers in the right way and at the right time with the right approach. They need to connect.

The changing face of search

Micro-moments are multiplying. Not many of us can even recall what life was like before we could go, do, learn or buy by using our devices, and this is increasingly our mobile phones.

Everyone now knows they’ll get the details they desire with fewer search words. It’s expecting more for less. And getting it.

And it helps marketers realise which moments most matter most. It is the future. Particularly for small businesses.

This “in the moment” mentality also plays a big part in the rise of video. Particularly with today’s younger audience.

We want answers now. Increasingly a video is a quicker way to find the answer regarding certain queries such as how to increase page margins on a Word document, how to fix the oven or how to change a bulb on the car.

Insatiable desire for information and speed

Mobile First SEO

On a daily basis there’s an incessant desire for instant information – and that needs to be super-fast and accessible on various devices. Or people will go elsewhere, within seconds.

But if you get it right… Google recently discovered that 70 per cent of smartphone owners who bought an item in a shop had looked on their device for applicable info before parting with their cash. It also found when people searched on their mobile, 92 per cent made an associated purchase.

In fact, the same Google research revealed that it’s not just about buying things there and then. It found that 68 per cent of people searched to assist their decision-making about something for the future (with 97 per cent of these on mobile phones).

What helps people in micro-moments?

When a query or a want or need turns up, most of us trust our phones to come up with the right answers. In fact Google found that 96 per cent of smartphone users turn to their mobiles when they need to find out something.

Furthermore, in 2016 Google monitored 1,000 smartphone users on what their search usage was. It discovered that when it comes to searching:

• 40 per cent of users had their queries answers by a search engine (87 per cent turn to search first).
• 19 per cent visited a retailer’s app or website.
• 19 per cent went to another app or website.
• 15 per cent visited a store or other location.
• 12 per cent used a map.
• 10 per cent looked at images/photos on a site or app.
• 8 per cent asked someone online or via a call or text.
• 6 per cent watched an online video.
• 6 per cent used social media.
• 6 per cent connected with a business.

(More on this study can be read here: thinkwithgoogle.com/consumer-insights/mobile-search-consumer-behavior-data/ )

Does the time of the day matter with searches?

Yes, and the time of searches in the day can be just as vital to customer relationships and sales as to what season of the year it is.
Google did a bit more looking into this and discovered that, not surprisingly, computer and tablet searches most often happen – and overtake mobile searches – during office hours (8am to 6pm). This includes lunchtime. But not all businesses follow these patterns.

Google’s VP of Marketing Lisa Gevelber says:

“Mobile empowers people to be nimble. They can organise themselves as much (or as little) as they like because they know their smartphone is there for them. And, they expect brands to respond by understanding their needs and addressing them right now.

“Consider baby products. In that category, mobile searches reign supreme throughout the day, but show a pronounced peak around 9pm. This behaviour reflects the broader context and mindset of the people behind those queries. After the baby is asleep and parents have some time for themselves, it’s a more fitting time to do some (mobile) research on infant swings and cribs.

“Different queries or subtopics might peak at different times. By digging deeper into various types of intent within your category, you can see interesting patterns during a typical day.”

Its key then to assess these rhythms so websites can be there offering the right thing at the right time. Everything is about helping people as much as possible, and in as personal a way as possible. It’s as if your website or app’s users are your friends.

Why location matters more?

As far back as September 2015 Google’s Lisa Gevelber stated that “near me” or “nearby” Google searches doubled in 2014.

But now she reports that has moved forward – since then searches without the words “nearby” or “near me” have increased by 150 per cent. The reason is that people now expect a search finding to deliver local findings.

Increasingly, we assume that what we are given after a search is relevant to us in terms of place and personality.

“The trends are clear, and we as marketers need to take notice,” Lisa says. “People may be sharing less, but they still expect relevant, accurate information. In fact, people increasingly assume they’ll receive relevant information with fewer explicit inputs.

“They expect a simple word or phrase to deliver the results they’re after when they search. In essence, people are saying ‘don’t make me exert extra effort when you should already know exactly what I want’.”

Companies prepared to go above and beyond will see the best results. For instance, around two-thirds of people searching on their smartphones are much more likely to buy from a brand that has an app or site that is adapted to be relevant to where they are. This is not just desired now – it’s demanded and expected.

So, what’s next in micro-moments?

According to Google’s Senior Vice President of Ads & Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, we are going to keep expecting even more useful details that are even more tailored to us – and to get them even more swiftly.

“I like to think of mobile as the force that’s accelerating a train we’re all now aboard,” he says. “We’re heading toward an age of assistance where, for marketers, friction will mean failure, and mass messages will increasingly mean ‘move on’.

“Successful marketers will have a much deeper understanding of their customers at every encounter. They’ll focus on acquiring a detailed, data-driven view to really know them and help them along their individual journeys.”

He thinks it’s “critical” to get it right – because shrewd changes made today lay the preparations for the future.

“This future is what we at Google have been building toward for the last 18 years with Search.”

 


Mobile First SEO

Top 5 SEO trends in 2017

What an interesting year in SEO 2017 is already proving to be! So far we’ve seen a lot of changes.

From the jokingly named Google Fred update to the increased dominance of local and personalised search, to our faster than ever push into a mobile-only world. Then there’s the speed of voice search adoption.

But there’s much more coming.

Here are my Top 5 trends to watch for the remainder of 2017. All are interconnected and cannot be viewed in isolation. Nothing in SEO operates in its own separate silo.

Mobile First SEO

 

AI and RankBrain

Google’s RankBrain and algorithmic machine learning continues to dominate.

Ever since the Hummingbird update, Google’s emphasis on semantic search is never-ending and evolving at a tremendous pace.

Google even took the unusual step of confirming that RankBrain was the third most important ranking factor after links and content in 2016. This importance has only increased throughout the latter half of 2016 and into 2017.

Having moved on from its days of poetry and reading romantic novels, Google’s AI technology is getting better by the day.

It’s very hard to optimise for RankBrain.

It’s so all-encompassing and fast-moving that only true quality will dominate SERPs (search engine results pages). Which is great.

UX (user experience), CTRs (click-through rates), aiming for the ‘long click’ and the resulting engagement metrics should be high on your watch list.

The increasing importance of personal branding

The web is about people. It’s about us.

So that means having an outstanding About Us page; having a description of who you are; and a statement on just what makes you stand out from the competition. These are essential.

You need to build a personal brand as a core strategy for SEO. To establish trust.

Pictures and especially videos will be a central focus for Google for the remainder of 2017 – and well into the future. Having a team video and/or personalised photographs is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity these days.

If you show yourself as an approachable and friendly person, visitors will trust you much more readily. This will drive ever more traffic and conversions to your website.

Even social media platforms such as Facebook have been honing their algorithms in favour of personal posts (as opposed to brand posts). 

In the future more businesses will choose the personal approach to gain success.

User Experience Optimisation (UEO) and Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO)

To a varying degree, user experience has always been important to SEO. Google ranks sites that are properly set up for mobile devices, that load quickly and where users spend a long time on a page.

This year we will likely see even more focus on user experience, especially on mobile devices. So focus on the traffic you already have to offer people much more than they expect.

Page depth, time-on-site, CTRs, and pogo-sticking are all things to work on.

If you offer true value you will notice the difference and soon know the full benefits of your efforts.

Personal digital assistants will become more sophisticated

Thanks to personal digital assistants the opportunity for new types of search and more advanced forms of conversational queries is huge.

Excellent tools such as Cortana and Siri have enhanced our user experience, made our lives easier and massively increased the number of verbal searches and enquiries.

For the rest of the year, we’ll see these tools become even more smoothly polished and capable of offering even more useful features. And that means excellent new ranking opportunities that have to be brought into play.

Voice search has the potential to really shake up the SEO industry.

The need for speed: a fast-loading user experience

It’s no secret that speed really matters.

Research has shown slower loading web pages are associated with higher bounce rates, and up to 40 percent of visitors are likely to abandon your site if it loads in longer than just three seconds.

Speed will be of even more importance in the coming year. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) pages help and will be of increasing importance in the future.

There are so many other interesting technologies on the horizon as well – such as HTTP/2 and Google’s new open source JPEG encoder Guetzli, which are just two to keep a keen eye on.

In conclusion

Knowing who your customer is and what they want is the big change this year. Not just with SEO, it’s where the entire digital strategy will be directed.

You need to meet, match and exceed searcher’s expectations. To achieve this you have to understand your target audience better than ever before.

Google’s aim is to provide the most relevant website to the search entered.

Going big on word count is not working as well as it used to, not when short videos and images can be so much more attractive. Done well, they can deliver what you want to say and what customers want to know much quicker.

So, keep it simple! Give users what they want, let the search engines do their job – and it will all fall into place.

In 2017 it’s time to focus on providing true value.


SEO Strategy in an Increasingly PPC Dominated World

The layout of Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) has changed dramatically over the years. With maps, videos, images, featured snippets, the Knowledge graph, news and various personal suggestions all claiming their place, the first page of Google’s SERPs is now almost unrecognisable.

As marketers, one of the biggest shakeups we’ve seen this year is the increasing real estate given to paid search.

In February of 2016, Google announced (after years of testing) that paid search ads will no longer appear on the right hand side of the SERPs and that for ‘highly commercial’ terms, they’ll show an additional ad at the top, thereby increasing the space given to paid advertising from three places to four.

Four paid search ads and Local within SERPs

 

Paid search ads that didn’t make the top four places were moved to the bottom of the page. This meant that for some ‘highly commercial’ queries, you could see no less than seven paid search ads, which severely limited the number of organic possibilities.

The reasoning behind this shift was fairly sound and understandable. With the explosion of mobile usage and the corresponding local signals, Google wanted to standardise the listings across devices.

For many brick-and-mortar businesses, this meant a renewed interest and push for better local listings. The reward for appearing in the local three-pack was never more attractive. With the local listings appearing just beneath the top paid ads and above the normal organic ones. In essence, jumping into first place for anything organic.

More recently, and somewhat more controversially, Google has started to offer paid listings in the local finder as well, reached after clicking “More places” from a local three-pack in the main Google search results.

This is yet another piece of prime real estate that has been sold to advertisers.

Paid search ads in local listings

What does this mean for organic listings?

Before answering this question, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind these changes.

Search engines and Google, in particular, have become increasingly good at understanding user intent. If I’m searching to buy a laptop and search the exact laptop model with the words ‘buy’ or ‘purchase,’ Google knows and understands this intention, and being a strictly commercial one, they’d most likely present me with a series of paid search ads.

Is this a bad user experience? The answer, in most cases, is no. I’m looking to buy a laptop, I know what kind of laptop I want to buy and at this stage in my decision making process I just want to be presented with options of where to buy it. My intent is purely commercial and transactional. Displaying a series of paid ads is more relevant to me and provides better performance for advertisers. In many ways, a win-win situation.

It’s the informational ‘Micro-moments’ that SEO strategy should be attempting to target. The billions of queries that are not highly commercial and offer some scope for branding and connection.

There are over 3.5 billion searches on Google a day. Over 15% of these search queries have never been seen before.

Google’s engineers now feel confident enough in RankBrain’s ability to sift through these unrecognised queries (sorting them into vectors and assigning a ‘probable’ meaning to them) that they’ve recently announced RankBrain is now used in every search. It has become the third most important ranking signal (after links and content).

As we mentioned in our article about semantic search, we’re moving away from strings to things. Towards meaning and providing true value to the user.

A combined PPC and SEO search strategy

Having a combined SEO and paid search strategy is a good way forward for many companies. Particularly for e-commerce sites.

You’d have a carefully targeted PPC campaign with different landing pages for the commercial ‘I-want-to-buy-now,’ moments and a strong organic presence for people at the informational and research stages. Rather than competing with each other, these different listings would compliment one another, reinforcing your brand and presence at every stage of the decision making process.

The path to purchase is fragmented and non-linear. More so now than ever before.

The consumer journey has been fractured into hundreds of tiny decision-making moments at every stage of the ‘buyer’s funnel’—from inspiration to purchase.

For SEO to succeed, we need to address these ‘Micro-moments.’ We need to answer people’s questions, exceed their expectations and meet them at whatever stage of the decision making process they are currently in.

As a recent study by Google concluded – you need to be there, be useful and be quick. Therein lies the key to success online.


Content Marketing – How to Meet Searchers Expectations

content-marketing-meeting-searchers-expectations-670x340

Content is not King. Search engines only care about your content in so far as it answers searchers questions. In the last few years especially, the web has become one huge answering machine. People query search engines and search engines attempt to answer these questions by providing results. Simple. Not really.

As we saw in the introduction to semantic search article – A search engine takes our queries, tries to understand the words, and delivers the same results a human would – the same results a friend would give you. And not just any friend, a close friend. A friend who understands you, who knows your current and previous locations, who knows your tastes and preferences and most importantly, knows your intentions.

These days, your website doesn’t just have to target keywords, you need to meet, match and exceed searcher’s expectations. To achieve this you have to understand your target audience better than ever before.

You need to understand the kinds of questions they have and, most importantly, provide them with enough information that they will not have to pogo-stick back to the search engine results pages (SERPs)

This pogo sticking can have a dramatic effect on rankings.


Pogo sticking, Long and Short Clicks

Pogo sticking - Google's SERPs

A long click is a sign of user satisfaction. It’s a sign of expectations and intentions being met.

Many people mistakenly confuse a ‘long click,’ with low bounce rates. Although the two metrics do have some correlation, they are still very different.

Popular resource pages (think Wikipedia & Stackflow) and blogs often have high bounce rates. People come in, find what they need and leave again. Or in the case of blogs, they read the latest post and leave.

They have no need to carry on searching. And that is the key. Their intentions have been met.

They have no need to ‘pogo-stick’ back to the search results and click on other results.

This pogo-sticking is an easy metric for Google to calculate and keep track of. It also provides a very clear indication of user satisfaction.

When a user is actively choosing another website from the SERPs to get the information they are looking for, this shows Google that your content is not good enough and doesn’t deserve to rank for those queries. It also shows Google which websites should be ranking above yours.

If this becomes a common occurrence on your landing pages, search engines will notice these short clicks and your rankings will decrease. (this natural voting system is far more transparent in PPC and makes up a large part of the Quality Score).

How do you Match and Exceed Searcher’s Expectations?

In our semantically themed world, you have to understand your clients, understand their questions, their queries, you need to know what goes on in their heads. First and foremost, you should put yourself in their shoes.

What questions would they have before taking a decision?

A good exercise is to get a piece of paper and write down the most common questions you hear from your clients. Get everyone involved, ask all the members of your team for their feedback.  

Break these queries down for each one of your products and/or services and then look at your existing content. Are you addressing these questions? Are you addressing them fully? Would users need to go somewhere else to get the information they need? – to one of your competitors.

This ‘completeness’ is so important these days. It’s the difference between a long and short click.

Optimising Existing Content

Cyrus Shepard wrote a brilliant article – one that sums up perfectly what we’ve been doing at Artemis.

When you already have traffic coming to a website and have some information to work with, the place to start is Google’s Search Console.

Search console query data at the URL level

Pick a few underperforming pages. I tend to pick ones that drive some traffic, but could/should drive more, ones that often rank on the second page of SERPs and have low click-through-rates.

Select the individual pages, adjust the timeframe to the maximum 90-day of queries and filter by impressions. These are the queries that are landing on your page and they often give you great insight into people’s intentions.

Sometimes it’s not immediately clear and you need to dig around a bit, but usually, you’ll find a true mine of information.

Does the Content on your Page Satisfy User Intent?

There are various ways to address this. And we’ll be covering them in later articles.

A quick fix is to amend title tags and meta descriptions. By including these big traffic driving queries in your title tag (particularly near the beginning) or within the meta description, you will increase click-through-rates and drive more traffic. At least in the short term.

But remember, this traffic needs to be sustainable and you need to aim for long clicks.

It’s very important that title tags and meta descriptions are not deceptive. They need to fairly reflect what a user is going to find on that page. If they don’t, people will quickly bounce off, ‘pogo-sticking’ back to the search results, causing the whole page to lose rankings.

A far better solution is to provide real value to searchers. By having the best content, by being helpful and answering all their questions clearly and fully.

Content is no longer King. The new King is the long click.


The End of Referral Spam as We Know it?

Although, still unconfirmed by Google, it looks like there have been some big changes in how referral spam is handled in Google Analytics. We have been seeing a steady decline over the last month and the last week in particular.

It looks as if Google began aggressively filtering from mid-to-late February.

There are still accounts with some minor issues, but nothing compared to what we saw a few months ago.

Having examined over 100 analytics accounts, it does indeed look like referral spam is coming to an end. At last. We hope.

What is Referral Spam?

Wikipedia defines referral spam as

“Referrer spam (also known as referral spam, log spam or referrer bombing) is a kind of spamdexing (spamming aimed at search engines). The technique involves making repeated web site requests using a fake referrer URL to the site the spammer wishes to advertise.”

What does Referral Spam Do?

 

Google Analytics

 

Basically, referral spam was an inconvenience. It was something you had to continually filter, monitor and explain. It wasted a lot of time. If it wasn’t filtered properly, it would also mess up your other metrics and skewer averages.

These automated requests would overload servers and slow down load times. With slower speeds and higher bounce rates, this would eventually translate into lower rankings. Many webmasters also feared the security implications, some of this spam traffic could be looking for WordPress, plugin and server vulnerabilities.

According to Jennifer Slegg from the Sempost, it looks as if the spam is being filtered after hitting the site, with it still visible in real time and then Google applies a filter before it hits the acquisition reporting.

Hopefully, this spells the end of referral spam as we know it.

For further reading, see How to Stop Spam Bots from Ruining Your Analytics Referral Data and for a free SEO and Analytics Audit contact us today!


An Introduction to Small Business and Semantic Search

Search engines are changing and they’re evolving faster than ever before. Have you ever felt that Google knows exactly what you are looking for? That you are being prompted with suggestions that are eerily close to what you have in mind? Sometimes even before you’ve finished typing your query. How does Google understand your thoughts so well? How can it possibly know what you’re looking for? Welcome to the world of semantic search.

Semantic search is one of the most exciting developments of our time. It is also one that is levelling the playing field between large and small businesses. Now, even small businesses have a place in the search results – a place where they can attract visitors and triumph.

What is Semantic Search?

The word semantics comes from Ancient Greek and involves the study of meaning. Attempting to find meaning is nothing new on the internet.

Indeed, Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the modern web, originally coined the term semantic web, which is defined as “providing a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.”

semantic_search_hummingbird

Although the theory and concepts behind semantic search are fairly easy to grasp, their very mechanism and the mathematics behind them are incredibly complex.

We are moving from a web of things to a web of people. From strings to things. Gone are the days where you can hide behind a large faceless portal and expect to build trust over the Internet.

The Knowledge Graph

The knowledge graph is often referred to as the brain behind semantic search.

Amit Singhal, the head of the Google Search team, retired last week. His replacement is John Giannandrea, none other than the man behind the Knowledge Graph, the recent Rankbrain update, the so-called Hummingbird algorithm and most of Google’s artificial intelligence initiatives in the last few years. With John around, AI and semantics will undoubtedly remain the major focus for Google.

John, like most techies, is a huge Star Trek fan. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Star Trek cannot help but be impressed by the computer onboard the Starship Enterprise – you know, the one that responds to voices, and that gets increasingly intelligent over time. The computer that ‘understands’ what you are asking it.

This is exactly where Google is headed. The search engine takes our queries, tries to understand the words, and delivers the same results a human would – the same results a friend would give you. And not just any friend, a close friend. A friend who understands you, who knows your current and previous locations, who knows your tastes and preferences and most importantly, knows your intentions.

Central to this new understanding is the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge graph semantic search

 

The knowledge graph uses fuzzy logic, which was first identified in the 1960s by Dr. Lotfi Zadeh, professor emeritus of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Fuzzy logic is a way to introduce “degrees of truth” into mathematics. It ascribes a mathematical value to logical variables, rather than a straight binary “yes” or “no.” Unlike traditional boolean logic, fuzzy logic allows Google to introduce probabilities into its calculations.

Each time you query Google, the results appear via semantic search, in the form of a list of possible answers. Google attempts to interpret the meaning of every query, by using all the information it has on you (for example, your location, search history, preferences, associations, friendships, your friends’ reviews, shopping history, the content of your emails and much more). It does all of this in order to give you answers based on your intent. Something which Google has become surprisingly good at over the years.

What can small businesses do?

When you think of semantics, you have to think about transparency and understanding. Semantics is all about you and the reasons you started your business in the first place. It’s about putting your passion on display and showing visitors what makes you stand out. What makes you special? And more importantly, why should visitors give you their business? First and foremost it’s about building trust.

Semantic search is so all encompassing and vast, that any attempts to manipulate it are doomed to failure. As a small business with limited time and resources, concentrate on the basics. Having a carefully optimised website, with a strong local presence and valuable content. Content that is going to help people. Content that is going to answer their questions and built trust.

It’s of little surprise that one of the most visited pages on any website is usually the ‘about us’ page. More so for e-commerce sites. People relate to people, they want to know about the people behind the site. A carefully thought out and written about us page goes a long way to building confidence.

Key Points for Small Businesses to keep in mind

  • What makes you special?
  • How do you stand out from your competitors?
  • Which qualities do you have that will make people trust you?
  • Think about your target demographics, the people you are trying to reach, your potential customers, what kinds of questions might they have? How are you addressing these questions?
  • Are you addressing these questions using the language your target audience would use?
  • Identify the problems that your business will help solve. How will you go about solving them? What solutions do you offer?

It is now more important than ever to provide real value to the end user. To take full advantage of semantic search, we have to go back to our basic values.

In other words, we have to provide value, answer visitors’ questions and exceed their expectations. The goal is to establish trust and build lasting relationships. As Tim Berners-Lee also stated, “The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people.”

 

For further reading on semantic search I recommend any books or articles written by David Amerland, his small business easy checklist and for a more technical (Google patent themed) reading list – seobythesea.